Plum High School teacher held for court on charges of intimidation
A judge on Wednesday held for court a second round of witness intimidation charges against a former Plum high school teacher, telling defense attorney R. Anthony DeLuca his argument persuaded her to side with the prosecution about moving forward.
Joseph Ruggieri, 40, of Plum was charged in February on accusations he had sex with a female student. He was subsequently charged with witness intimidation because police said he called the victim. He was charged with intimidation again in June, accused of sending a series of pseudo-anonymous emails using a school-issued laptop that remained in his possession.
“Her life had been in a tailspin; she was being bossed around by people, abandoned by fair-weather friends, judged with the harshest of names, and worst of all, kept from her true love,” one line read.
DeLuca called the emails an expression of love.
“Your argument swayed me the other way,” said District Judge Linda Zucco. “I’m not buying it.”
Ruggieri, who has remained in the Allegheny County Jail since his arrest June 29, appeared shackled and in his red, jail-issued jumpsuit. He did not speak during proceedings.
Plum Detective Mark Focareta was the only witness in attendance, and he was not called to testify.
DeLuca stipulated that, for the purposes of the preliminary hearing only, the defense would argue as if the criminal complaint were true.
He argued that the alleged calls and emails did not rise to the level of intimidation, nor was there proof force was used, which was the basis of filing felony intimidation charges rather than misdemeanor charges.
“It’s a discussion of love,” DeLuca said. “There is not a clear statement that says, ‘Hey, don’t do this.’ ”
Focareta wrote in the criminal complaint that the victim was scared by the emails. DeLuca said what matters is the intent of the defendant, not the interpretation of the victim, and Ruggieri’s intent was not to intimidate.
“The fact that she was scared has no bearing on the case whatsoever,” he said. “It’s a useless fact.”
Formal arraignment is scheduled Sept. 15.
Ruggieri was arrested and charged Feb. 17 with institutional sexual assault.
A condition of Ruggieri’s bail in March following the first intimidation charges was that he have neither Internet access nor contact with the alleged victim.
An Allegheny County grand jury is continuing its investigation into whether school officials stayed mum while teachers might have abused as many as eight female students over eight years.
Megan Guza and Karen Zapf are staff writers for Trib Total Media.
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review sports reporter. You can contact Paul by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .